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Making waves of the freeride circuit: Q&A with snowboard phenom Holden Samuels

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Holden Samuels has his eyes set on qualifying for the elite Freeride World Tour even in his rookie season competing on the Freeride World Qualifying Tour. After four competitions on the FWQT, Samuels has already collected three first-place finishes and is currently ranked as the no. 2 contender in the male snowboard division. PHOTO COURTESY OF HOLDEN SAMUELS

By Doug Hare EBS Staff

BIG SKY – Lone Peak High School graduate Holden Samuels is only 19 years old but already has a storied career as a snowboard athlete. As a senior in high school, he overcame an ACL tear to earn a silver medal in the Freeride World Junior Championships in Kappl, Austria. Since graduating from the FWJT, Samuels has competed in two 2019 Freeride World Qualifier 2* events, finishing first at both Beartooth Basin and La Parva, Chile this summer.

In his first ever 4* event at Revelstoke Mountain Resort, he finished in third place, and then in the following 4* event on Feb. 9 at Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Colorado, Samuels found himself back on top of the podium, winning by a full point. With a only a few competitions under his belt on the adult circuit, Samuels already has secured a second place ranking in North America for men’s snowboard on the qualifying circuit.

Explore Big Sky: What was the recipe for your success in the Crested Butte competition?

Holden Samuels: The venue in Crested Butte was gnarly. It was steep, and had a super-thin snowpack. My plan was just to hit as many features as I could while maintaining high fluidity.

EBS: What adjustments have you made since graduating from the junior circuit? How much different is the level of competition?

H.S.: The snowboard field is much bigger in the qualifiers than it was at the junior level, and there are many more riders capable of throwing down. I have definitely had to start going for bigger features and throwing more tricks in competition.

EBS: You are a freshman at University of Colorado at Boulder. How has the transition to college been? Do you find time time to practice and, if so, where? Do you have an intended major yet?

H.S.: The transition to college has been a little wild. I graduated with a class of 26, and now I go to a school of 30,000 students. I have already met so many cool people and experienced so many new things. I have been able to snowboard quite a bit because I have no class on Mondays and Wednesdays, so that gives me four days a week to snowboard. However, it has been tough commuting to the mountains, with most resorts being an hour and a half away and I70 becoming a zoo whenever it snows.

EBS: What freeride athletes do you look up to?

H.S.:  Most of the freeriders I look up to are actually skiers. Candide Thovex is the GOAT in my opinion, and Sammy Carlson is one of the most fun athletes to watch. Also, I look up to Kelly Slater and the success he has had on the World Surfing League. He turns so powerfully on waves and I try to mimic that on snow.

EBS: What are your goals for this season on the qualifying circuit?

H.S.: My goal for the qualifying circuit is to qualify for the [Freeride World Tour] and hopefully pick up some sponsors along the way.

EBS: Who do you go to for advice about competing? Do you have a coach? Who are you closest friends on the competition circuit?

H.S.: I learned so much about competing from my old coach, Cooper Raasch, who has travelled all around the world with me. Nowadays, if I need to talk about competing or just riding in general I go to my older brother, Chase. My closest friends on the circuit are all the kids that were always at the junior championships with me.

EBS: What sponsors have you picked up along the way and how do they help you out in your rookie season?

H.S.: I only have two sponsors right now: Never Summer and Blackstrap. Never Summer has been hooking me up with the strongest boards for a few years now, and Blackstrap hooks me up with the warmest face masks.

EBS: Your older brother Chase is a strong skier and freeride athlete. What it helpful to grow up with an older brother who also enjoys winter sports?

H.S.: Chase is a huge reason why I have been so successful in snowboarding. He is the reason I started competing in freeride in the first place. Since before I can remember, he has been waking  me up and dragging me out of bed to go riding with him. Following him around the mountain for so long has pushed me to ride bigger lines and hit airs that I would have never done on my own.

EBS: What’s the best advice that you have ever received about snowboarding?

H.S.: Best advice: If you’re not falling, you’re not trying.

EBS: What would be your ideal venue to compete on and why?
H.S.: My ideal venue to compete on is the Bec des Rosses in Switzerland, which is where the FWT championship is held.

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